Jess Waterman was one of 26 Ringwood Hawks basketball players who boarded a plane this week in Melbourne, Australia, and took off for Columbus, almost 10,000 miles to the northeast and 16 time zones away.
Three Hawks teams -- varsity boys, varsity girls and junior varsity boys -- will play a total of 28 games in four states over the next two weeks, starting Thursday, Dec. 27, when the girls visit DeSales for the annual Roosters Stallion Holiday Classic.
Although Waterman, a 5-foot-8 guard, visited Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco during a vacation to the U.S. in April 2017, that is largely the extent of her familiarity with the country. She and the rest of the Hawks will be adjusting to the differences between Australia and the U.S. -- not the least of which will be subtleties on the basketball court -- on the fly, but the Hawks seem to be looking forward to every second of their trip.
"I know that there are a few differences, such as we have (a 24-second) shot clock (which Ohio does not have). But the rules shouldn't be too difficult to adjust to," Waterman said. "I know little to nothing about the teams we are playing, but ... it should be great fun meeting everyone."
Unlike in the U.S., Australian basketball teams are club-based. Ringwood, whose organization goes from the professional Big V League down to developmental teams for high school players, draws its high school players from 12 schools.
"The club likes to promote opportunities for our players to enjoy all aspects of basketball. A number of our players in the past have been offered U.S. college scholarships and many are looking to aspire to this in the future so tours like this give them exposure to what basketball is like over there," said Tim Mottin, president of the Ringwood Hawks who will coach the girls team on its American trip, his second such journey to the U.S. in three years. "We are trying to take a basketball tour every two years and we had a lot of interest from our boys program this year, so we have brought three teams."
The teams, which Mottin emphasized are comprised purely of amateur players, will have a busy stay in central Ohio and beyond.
After facing DeSales, the girls will play New Albany or Olentangy Orange on the final day of the Roosters Stallion Holiday Classic on Friday, Dec. 28. That same day and the next, both boys teams will participate in the Stephen Gussler Invitational at Thomas Worthington.
Both teams will play the host Cardinals on Dec. 28 and the varsity boys will play Reynoldsburg on Saturday, Dec. 29.
Later that day, all three teams will participate in a tripleheader at Upper Arlington.
Ringwood will have games in Kentucky against Louisville Christian Educational Consortium on Tuesday, Jan. 1, and Lexington Bluegrass United on Wednesday, Jan. 2, before returning to central Ohio to play KIPP Columbus on Jan. 3.
The Hawks then will travel to Phoenix for games against Desert Heights Preparatory Academy on Jan. 4 and to Nevada for contests the next two days against Las Vegas Democracy Prep and Henderson Pinecrest Academy.
While area coaches jumped at the chance to be involved, they have rosters for all teams but little other information.
"We don't know much about them, but we're more excited about the opportunity for our girls and theirs to learn about each other's cultures," DeSales girls coach Brian Cromwell said.
"It's a huge deal," UA girls coach Chris Savage said. "We want to see how they live and what's different between our way of life and theirs. It's a good chance to gain an appreciation for things outside UA and the United States."
Families from each of the local teams will act as host families for portions of the Hawks' stay.
The trip has been in the works for more than a year. It was organized by Showtime Basketball, a company that has provided recruiting and travel opportunities to Australian basketball teams since 2002.
According to the company's website, more than 2,500 travelers have participated in basketball tours between Australia and the U.S. in the past 16 years.
The teams will attend NBA and NHL games in addition to sightseeing.
Thomas boys coach Sean Luzader coached all-star teams in Germany, Italy and Switzerland during the past several years and was especially eager to be a host team when contacted by Showtime Basketball earlier this year.
"It's bigger than basketball," Luzader said. "It's about things as small as seeing what our meals look like and how they're served (and) what our schools are like. We're going to exchange small presents and keepsakes, stuff they can remember Columbus by. It might be a Buckeye necklace or something that has our school name on it."
Luzader said that in his experience, international basketball tends to be more perimeter-oriented.
"It's more finesse as opposed to the grittier, pound-the-ball-inside style we see here," he said. "When we went overseas, we struggled with traveling rules. There, you can take an extra step we can't take here, and they have a 24-second shot clock. They'll have to adjust to our style and our rules."
According to Hawks boys player Connor Brincat, that was an ongoing process as the trip approached. His team might have an advantage in that department as his coach, Jacob Gibson, is from Jonesboro, Arkansas, and played at Harding University in his home state before signing with the Hawks' Big V League team in 2016.
"If any player isn't excited to go on this tour, I think they just shouldn't go," Brincat said. "Not a lot of people have this opportunity to say they played basketball in another country and against several high school teams. I am looking forward to seeing how our basketball skills are compared to the other teams. Maybe we might learn something along the way."